From Endurance to Dressage
I've only been home from this weekend's Southern California Equestrian Center show for a day or two. Like I said yesterday, I should be more excited about having earned my Bronze Medal scores. If winning ribbons, trophies, and medals were my ultimate goal, I would be thrilled. I've come to realize though that is not what motivates me. What keeps me going is knowing that I can always make things better. That I need to make things better, cleaner, sharper, more confirmed. So when I watched the 3-1 test yesterday, I cringed at my mistakes, noting what needs improvement and thinking about how to make that happen.
Before I rip apart where we're making our biggest mistakes, I was really pleased by some of the movements, and I can definitely see how much we've improved since last fall. Our walk pirouettes are getting quite nice and have turned into an opportunity for easy points. On test one we earned a 6.0 and a 7.0. On test three we bumped those up to a 7.0 and an 8.0. They're easily a strength. Our centerlines have always been good - we earned a 6.5 and a 7.0 on this test, and our shoulder-ins are coming along nicely - 6.0 and 6.5.
Our medium and extended trots weren't as good as they can be, but I had tweaked my back earlier in the week, and it was killing me over the weekend. That tightness in my back came through on the test and showed in our scores, 6.0 and 5.5. The first real mistake that I made on this test was in the 10-meter half circles after the shoulder-ins. My geometry was way off, and I am not sure why. That should have lowered my half pass scores, but fortunately, the judge either couldn't see it or it didn't influence her scoring.
Our biggest mistake though, and I am blaming Speedy a bit for this one, is our left to right flying change. I can get those nice and neat at home, but that is the one that gets sticky at a show. On Sunday he flipped me the bird when I asked. On Saturday, he tried to fake me out with a little jump in his canter, but he didn't actually change. In the video you can see me lean over to check (about 5:20 in the video). By the time I got it sorted out, we were on the rail when I got the change which left us with a 5.0 and the comment "not on aids."
Even though we "only" scored a 60.676%, I am not disappointed. The two tests on Saturday were definitely improved overall when compared to last year, and that's all I can really ask for. Here's the video with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, offering some quiet, and sometimes funny, feedback as she recorded the test.
Third Level Test 3 tomorrow ...
Part 1 here.
Finishing my 3-1 test was a huge relief. I knew it wasn't brilliant, but it wasn't terrible either. I am constantly telling my trainer that my greatest fear isn't embarrassing myself - I do that all the time. No, my greatest fear is embarrassing her.
It's stupid really. As a teacher, I never worry about my students embarrassing me. As long as they try, I'll never be angry or disappointed. I tell them every day that as long as they're trying, they'll ultimately accomplish whatever it is that they've set out to do. Usually it's long division or simplifying fractions. I feel like the flying changes are a lot like both of those math skills.
If I am not worried about my own students embarrassing me, why should I worry that I'll embarrass my own teacher? I shouldn't of course, but that's what happens when you have the utmost respect for someone and don't want her teaching methodology to be misrepresented. Finishing 3-1 without the judge kicking me out for being an idiot helped me realize that while we still have a long way to go, Third Level is the right place for us.
So when we did our second test on Saturday, Third Level Test 2, I was much more relaxed. I focused more on the geometry and worked harder to get an inside bend, especially in the corners. Most of the test was pretty satisfactory. We started off with a 7.0 for our centerline but a 5.0 for our shoulder-in left. From there, we earned a steady string of 6.0s with a lone 4.0 for getting "stuck" in the half turn on the haunches left. We earned a 7.0 for the medium walk. Our half pass right earned a 5.5 for not being on centerline, but from there we earned another string of 6.0s except for one.
Our flying change from left to right earned a 6.0 with the comment, "kicked leg, then clean". Our change from right to left looked better to me but only earned a 4.0 with the comment "late with HL." I can't see it very well in the video, but that 4.0 really cost us a lot of points.
For Saturday's Third Level Test 2, we earned a 58.816%. We missed a 60% by 4.5 points (out of 380!). Yet again we were this close.
The second and third tests of a two-day show weekend are usually our best. For the first test, I am typically nervous, and for the last test, Speedy is usually tired, and I am sort of over it. For our second try at 3-2, Sunday's last ride, I simply wasn't prepared. I had spent so much mental energy riding 3-1 over and over in my head that I let 3-2 kind of hang out in my peripherals. I knew it was coming, but I was hoping that it would just sort of happen in a best case scenario sort of way. That is not a good strategy by the way.
While I was determined to ride the hell out of Sunday's 3-2 test, good intentions were not quite enough to get a 60%. The trot work went nearly as well as the day before, except the renvers left. That thing lacked any hint of angle and garnered us a 4.0. No, it wasn't the trot work. It was the half pass to flying change that did us in.
I'd like to blame it on somebody, but it was my fault. I didn't run through the test just before entering at A like I usually do, so as my reader called out each movement, I was mentally lost and wishing she'd read it faster so I could prepare sooner. The whole canter section was a disaster starting with the walk to canter at F. We got a wrong lead and just never could get things organized again.
Speedy kept dropping the canter which meant I kept asking him to pick up a counter canter while half passing while also preparing for a flying change of lead. All I can say is don't try this at home, kids. It doesn't work. The same thing happened the other way. After the medium canter, I just couldn't get him sitting enough to make the 10-meter circle at C which meant he lost the canter, and there we were trying to replicate the same disastrous counter canter/half pass/flying change combo. I am lucky we even got the 3.0s and 4.0s that we did.
When you bomb 5 different movements - walk to canter, half pass times 2, and the flying change of lead times 2, ain't no way you're pulling a 60% out of that mess. But you know what? It's okay, we finished with a 6.0 for a clear release of reins, a 6.5 for our extended canter, and a 7.0 for our final centerline. In total, we earned a dismal 54.474%.
Knowing that the mistakes were mine and not Speedy's means it's an easy fix for next time. I am proud of the fact that I completely biffed a string of movements only to shrug it off and finish strong. On one test the judge even commented, "changes still developing." I love the positive spin she put on that. Yep, they are developing which means they'll only get better with time.
We're doing a CDS-rated show on Sunday. You can bet I've been working on the geometry and those 10-meter circles. I'll show you how tomorrow!
When starting a new level, I don't generally hunt down my score from the first test before riding the second one. The score doesn't matter at that point because I am already riding to the best of my ability. Reading that I suck isn't going to help any, so I'd rather get all the news, good or bad, at once.
After finishing my first ride, I knew it was pretty well done. I didn't have much time between tests though, so I didn't bother to check the score. It was what it was. Never did I imagine that I had earned a full 5% higher than I was hoping for. I am serious. I was hoping to score as high as a 57%. Breaking 60% was my pie in the sky goal. We obliterated that goal with our 63%.
There were two rides between our two tests, so I didn't even bother going back to the warm up. There was nothing I needed to fix, and I was worried about wearing Speedy out.
As we trotted up center line for the second time, I knew we were in a bit of trouble. He was a lot less enthusiastic the second time around. By the time we got to the canter work, I was working really hard to keep him cantering. He was pretty sure he'd had enough. He's such a rock star though that as we turned down center line for the final time, I felt him push off and give me all he had. He went from a string of 6s at the end to a 6.5 for his last score.
I have to say, those half turns on the haunches were legit. I haven't see video of us doing those since last summer when we first learned how to ride them. I can see that movement being one of our strong suits, and since they have a double coefficient, all the better!
We definitely have a lot of room for improvement (ahem, simple change at B), but the test looked a lot better than I ever imagined it would. We earned a 61.282% for our effort. While not as high as the first test, the score still exceeded my expectations. We only had two 7s, but again, no 4s and only one 5. I'd say our Second Level debut was a success!
Speedy's Arabian Horse Association registered name is G Ima Starr FA. He has lived up to his name time after time. I really don't think there is anything this horse can't do. I love him to pieces!
You read about our warm up yesterday. Here's what happened the next day.
With all of my eggs riding in Speedy G's basket, I gave him a modified bath (legs and belly only), braided (they looked AMAZING, but I forgot to take photos!), and headed over to the Gardiner Ranch.
Oh, but before that, while I was cleaning my everyday boots because my nicer boots are really hard to zip up, I had a zipper blow out. Crap. I threw them in the trailer anyway hoping they would make it through the day. They didn't. I zipped them up and down a couple of times to assess the damage, and they seemed okay until I walked a few steps in them. Fortunately, with the help of a friend (thank you, KM!), we were able to get the other pair zipped up.
Even feeling super confident in my partner's ability to carry the day (I Got This!), I was still feeling anxious. I did my best to shrug it off though and made it a point to visit with friends and check out what the Golden Empire Arabian Horse Society (GEAHS) had put together for the day.
Not only was there a free barbecue lunch, but the club had a silent auction and buckets filled with goodies for awards. At the lunch break, Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables rode a Freestyle to entertain the crowd. I didn't get to watch it as I was doing my warm up, but I heard the music and applause.
When she was finished, Chemaine zipped over to give me a few last tips before my test. She reminded me to get Speedy moving without throwing away the contact. Check and check.
Here's our Second Level Debut, Test 1.
We earned a 63.485%, good enough for first place. It was hard though. No big surprise, but my sitting trot definitely still needs work. Last May, when I rode with Hilda Gurney, I couldn't sit at all, so I am pretty happy that I was able to sit as much as I did.
When I watched the video on Monday morning, I was shocked at how easy Speedy made it look. He looks like he's been doing this his whole life. What the heck? He is an amazing partner.
I don't know how well these scores will hold up with the next judge, but there is no way I am going to complain about eight 7s my first time out the gate and no 4s. Was it just beginners luck?
We have a lot to improve on for sure, but I am so relieved to have that monkey off my back. Now that we've actually shown at Second Level, I don't care how long it takes us to get it right. Just knowing that we're in the right neighborhood takes a lot of pressure away.
Test 2 up next ...
If we fizzled on Test 2, I am not even sure a match was struck for Test3. I haven't had a score this low in quite some time (61.029%). But like I said yesterday, this ride didn't feel any different from the tests I've ridden all summer. The judge simply marked it how he saw it.
The real bummer is that I had a videographer all lined up, but when I found out that she takes lovely still shots, I ditched my iphone and let her use her lovely camera. I just assumed that the ride would look pretty similar to every other test I've ridden this year, so why record it?
As I looked through some of her pictures, I could definitely see that my position was wonky (The Lean), but Speedy looked pretty nice. Now I wish that I would have had her take video so that I could check the video against the scores.
These scores are not what I've seen in a while. Six scores in the 5 range? I didn't feel it, but that doesn't mean it wasn't so.
Not that it explains everything, but it was hot. I've already said that keeping Speedy in front of my leg on hot days is a new goal. Good thing we have like a million more hot days coming because I have lots of time to work on it!
I guess the one thing that we did do right was our halts. We earned a 7.5, 7.0, 7.0 (scored with a right and left turn between the two 10-meter trot circles), 6.0, and a whopper of an 8.0! I don't know which one is pictured up above, but we had some problems earlier this year with fidgety halts, so I am happy that we at least improved in that area.
In the end, I met at least some of my goals for the year. We placed well at RAAC (Reserve Champion), we earned 13 scores of 60% or higher for my CDS Plaque (no scores below 60%), we earned AA high score at two shows, and we were quite competitive within my CDS chapter. I don't know who won AA high point for the season, but I know I was close.
Overall, I had fun this season, and I am looking forward to slogging it out at Second Level!
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at Second Level. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2021 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
(Q) Must Qualify
2021 Pending …
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
2021 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2nd Level Qualifying
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 60.610% Bhathal
2nd Level Qualifying
5 Scores/4 Judges/61%:
Stuff I Read